« ZurückWeiter »
touching a fine instrument, from which we may draw tones that convince us of its power, but the master-hand is wanting.
Art. V. 1. Recollections of the Peninsula. By the Author of
Sketches of India. 8vo. pp. 262. Price 8s. London. 1823. 2. The Personal Narrative of a private Soldier, who served in the
Forty Second Highlanders, for Twelve Years during the late War.
12mo. pp. 264. Price 6s. London, 1821. TH HESE two publications will mutually illustrate each other.
The one is written by an officer, the other by a private; they describe the same scenes, and give us different versions of the same glorious story--war with all its maddening excitement,-war with all its borrors. We have already adverted to the former work in reviewing Dr. Southey's History of the Peninsular War, and it was not our intention to defer so long a more particular notice of its contents. Its Author unites the somewhat discordant characters of a military enthusiast and a sentimentalist. He talks of Xenophon and Polybius, but moralises like Mackenzie and Sterne. He has an eye for the picturesque; and a march through Spain afforded ample opportunities of gratifying his taste, in the costume, the scenery, and the military spectacle, while his feelings seem to have partaken of the intoxication of romance. We could have fancied that we were at times reading the imaginative descriptions of Geoffrey Crayon, rather than the account of a sanguinary campaign ; so much does the man of feeling predominate in these pages, over the scientific soldier.' They are the “ recollections,” evidently, of one who was a very young officer at the time, and they strikingly contrast with the matter of fact narrative of the old soldier. A sentence which the Writer found scratched in charcoal on the wall of a chapel at Albuera, comes pretty near the truth: 'La Guerre
en Espagne est la Fortune des Generaux, l' Ennui des Officiers, et le Tombeau des Soldats.'
It is but just to give the Writer's own account of the object he has had in view in drawing up these Recollections.
• I have more than once distinctly stated, that it is not my inten tion to offer a professional view of the progress and conduct of the war, or to enter at all upon a regular detail of movements and positions. My humble wish is, to draw a picture of campaigning, and if I succeed in recalling one scene of interest to the mind of any veteran who served in the Peninsula, or if I kindle one spark of enthusiasm in the bosom of a youthful soldier, however feebly I may have written, I feel that I shall not have written in vain.' p. 126.
Now according to our young hero's testimony, nothing is more inspiriting, exciting, and even amusing than a campaign. • To follow up a retreating army,' for instance, is at all times
amusing ; but when you do so for the first time, your curiosity and pleasure are almost puerile.' (p. 127.) • Our business among the rocks,' he says on another occasion, ' was a scene of laughter and diversion, rather than of bloodshed and
peril; for though some of the enemies' grenadiers dis• charged their muskets at us before they broke them, still,
our loss was very trifling, and the danger too inconsiderable
to be thought or spoken of.' (p. 173.) · The soldier's wants • are all provided for: he is fed and clothed; he sleeps, too, Sin comparative tranquillity; for, wrapt in his watch-cloak,
he reposes in a camp, surrounded by arms and comrades,
and ever prepared for resistance, which may indeed bring • with it death, but a death always honourable, seldom unre
venged.' (p. 119.)
• Neither is the sick bed of a soldier lonely or deserted. It is true, the anxious care and tender offices of a mother, and the affectionate solicitude of a sister, are wanting. Those comforts, which at home are sure to be provided for the chamber of an invalid, are wanting. Yet, here, some warm-hearted friend will smooth the pillow for your feverish head, will speak to you in the manly yet feeling language of encouragement; will procure, and often prepare for you some delicacy; and, in the dark and silent hour of evening, will sit quietly by your side, consoling you by affectionate pressures of the hand, for pain and suffering, and watching anxiously that nothing may interrupt or scare your needful slumbers. Yes, such a picture is not romantic; in civil life, men have homes, parents, wives, children, brothers, sisters; but in the profession of arms they become dependent upon friends. No where is friendship more true, more warm, more exalted, than in the army; absence from the mother country, privation, peril, the pursuit and attainment of honour, are so many ties which bind soul to soul, in bonds bright and indestructible.' pp. 74, 5.
· I well remember,' says the Writer, in another place, • how we all gathered round our fires to listen, to con• jecture, and to talk about this glorious but bloody event.' This was the Battle of Talavera, in which the division to which our Author was attached, was not engaged; and they • naturally regretted,' he says, that they had borne no share • in the honours of such a day, and talked long, and with an * undefined pleasure, about the carnage."
• Yes, strange as it may appear, soldiers, and not they alone, talk of the slaughter of battle-fields with a sensation which, though it suspends the lively throb of the gay and careless heart, partakes
nevertheless of pleasure. Nay, I will go further in the very exposure of the person to the peril of violent and sudden death, cureless wounds, and ghastly laceration, excitement strong, high, and pleasurable, fills and animates the bosom; hope, pride, pa. triotism, and awe, make up this mighty feeling, and lift a man, for such moments, almost above the dignity of his nature.'
Almost lift him into the fiend. Such moments, it is added,' are more than equal to years of common life.' What scenes of common life can those be fit for, then, who have been inured to such frenzied excitation ? But the bivouac affords the Writer an occasion for indulging all his powers of description.
• It is a pleasing sight to see a column arrive at its halting ground. The camp is generally marked out, if circumstances allow of it, on the edge of some wood, and near a river or stream. The troops are halted in open columns, arms piled, picquets and guards paraded and posted, and in two minutes, all appear at home. Some fetch large stones to form fire places ;, others hurry off with canteens and kettles for water, while the wood resounds with the blows of the bill-hook. Dispersed, under the more distant trees, you see the officers; some dressing, some arranging a few boughs to shelter them by night; others kindling their own fires; while the most active are seen returning from the village, laden with bread, or, from some flock of goats, feeding near us, with a supply of new milk. How often, under some spreading cork-tree, which offered shade, shelter, and fuel, have I taken up my lodging for the night; and here, or hy some gurgling stream, my bosom fanned by whatever air was stirring, made my careless toilet, and sat down with men I both liked and esteemed, to a coarse, but wholesome meal, seasoned by hunger and by cheerfulness. The rude simplicity of this life I found most pleasing: An enthusiastic admirer of nature, I was glad to move and dwell amid her grandest scenes, remote from cities, and unconnected with what is called society. Her mountains, her forests, and, sometimes her bare and bladeless plains, yielded me à passing home : her rivers, streams, and springs, cooled my brow, and allayed my thirst. The inconvenience of one camp taught me to enjoy the next; and I learned (a strange lesson for the thoughtless) that wood and water, shade and grass, were luxuries. I saw the sun set every evening ; I saw him rise again each morning in all bis majesty, and I felt that my very existence was a blessing. Strange, indeed, to observe how soon men, delicately brought up, can inure themselves to any thing. Wrapt in a blanket, or a cloak, the head reclining on a stone or a knapsack, covered by the dews of night, or drenched perhaps by the thunder-shower, sleeps many a youth, to whom the carpetted chamber, the curtained couch, and the bed of down have been from infancy familiar.' pp. 42, 3.
Finally, the Writer seems to admit, that the romantic illusions of a youthful and heated fancy have been destroyed by observation and inquiry;' but his attachment to the profession of arms' has not deserted him. Confirmed and happy in my choice of it, I now follow it with more silent devotion, more rational hopes, and less obtrusive zeal.'
Such are the illusions which give seduction to a military life, in the first instance, and which, when the romance has passed away from the imagination, leave the understanding the dupe of the habits,--dignifying the trade of homicide with the highsounding names of patriotism, valour, and professional duty. But war is what the private soldier finds it. The soldier's • wants,'our young Officer has told us, are all provided for; he • is fed and clothed,' &c. He should have said, sometimes. But he was not in the retreat to Corunna.-Let us hear our Highlander.
From the time I entered Spain, I could not say I had ever been unfit for any duty I was called to go on. We had very bad weather after leaving this place, and the roads were very deep. My last pair of shoes were then on my feet, and the badness of the roads made me feel very much on account of my shoes, not knowing how they were to be replaced ; and
I was súre a prisoner I would be, if ever I came to pad the hoof. The very prospect of want is worse than actual privation. I had around me hundreds in my condition : I had seen hundreds fall victims to what I dreaded. I shudder as I reflect on the groans of the dying, and the curses of the living, who walked on in despair.
• But we continued our retreat very rapidly. On New Year's Day morning our provisions were all eaten up. Never shall I forget that New Year's morning—it was of a Sunday too. Men, who on that day had been wont to bless God, imprecated their Maker. Nor did the authors of their calamities lack the widow's curse. Our provisions were done, and how to get more we knew not. My messmates that remained were famishing, and I proposed another foraging party. Great as the risk was, there was no alternative between it and death by starvation. “ I will go for one,” said I : “ will any one go with me?" “ I will,” said one man; “ and I,” said another. We soon got ourselves ready, with our bayonets fixed on sticks : we were not an hour out when we fell in with ten pounds of bread, and a pig's skin full of good wine. In this part of the country, the wine is all kept in pigs' skins. We came home to our comrades, and we did not want for the first day of the year 1809; but those that won't fight for their victuals, won't fight for their king.
• Next day we entered the mountainous district that lay between us and Corunna. By this time the army was in a wretched condition, from the want of provisions, shoes, and blankets; and insubordination began visibly to shew its capricious front in more brigades than ours. When we got upon the mountainous roads, we found them covered with deep snow, and our march that day was very long and fatiguing.
When we halted, neither barracks nor convents offered us an asylum; the earth was our bed, the sky our covering, and the loud winds sang us to sleep. However, we had a pound of beef a man served out to us that night; but we had neither wood nor water to cook it. There were a few old houses by the way-side--their ancient inmates had fled : in half an hour these houses were in ruins. The next thing was water-it was at a great distance; so'we took the snow, and melted as much as cooked our beef. We sat on our canteens and knapsacks by the fires all night, for we could not lie down on the fields of snow.
· Next morning we marched before day. I had, during the night, procured a pair of old shoes from a comrade, and they kept my feet off the stones for a few days, but they were very sore and painful, being all lacerated the preceding day. It was my turn for duty that morning-I had been warned for the Provost's guard: we were to march in the rear of the whole army. It was far in the day before the march commenced. I had now a full view of the miseries of this army. It was the most shocking sight, to see the road that day after the army had passed. Dead horses, mules, and asses, and waggops, and baggage of all descriptions, lay at every step; and men and women and children, that were not able to keep up with the army, iwplored our aid, or, in the bitterness of their soul, cursed their hard fate, or lay dying beside the dead, and, in their last moments, seldom breathed a prayer of (for?) forgiveness. So much did their misfortunes annihilate all the feelings of their nobler nature.
• We stopped on this ground, on which we offered the French battle, all day. About eight o'clock at night we received orders to put on large fires to make the enemy believe we were still encamped. At nine we commenced our retreat again, and marched all night and next day till two o'clock; we then halted at a small village, wherein there were some stores of rum and blankets. We had had a great deal of rain and sleet that day; but we trudged on in spite of the pitiless plash of the pelting storm. That night our quarters were in the fields ;
and nothing could be more disagreeable; I was as wet as a drowned rat; every stitch upon me was soaked; and in this poor state I had the mire for my bed. We were served out with an allowance of spirits; a quart among six men; I do believe it saved many a life. Every one got a blanket who chose to carry it; this was an hospital store ; the blankets were clean when we got them. There were no provisions of any kind in this store. I took one of the blankets, determined, if I could not get into an hospital, to have something to serve me instead. This was a God-send. We tarried here till about nine o'clock at night, and then took the road again.
I may say this was a constant march ; and on this day I was again reduced to my bare feet; not a shoe could I get. The pieces of blanket I tied round my soles soon became shreds : miserable sinner! I was now quite careless about my fate; I heeded not man; I cared not if I fell into the hands of the French ; I was harassed out of my very life. Still I continued on the line of march with the regiment for four hours. Sleep at length overcame me, and I would be marching and sleeping, literally walking asleep, till I would come